The National Park Service announced Monday that it supports a controversial land swap in which 60 acres of Cheeseboro Canyon federal parkland would be traded for 800 acres owned by entertainer Bob Hope.
The federal agency had said Thursday it would remain neutral on the proposal by Potomac Investment Associates to exchange 800 acres of Jordan Ranch for parkland that the developer needs to build a four-lane road.
Potomac and the PGA Tour, which have an option to buy the Jordan Ranch from Hope, have proposed to build 1,553 homes and a PGA tournament golf course on the remaining 1,500 acres of Hope's property.
The Jordan Ranch is north of the Ventura Freeway, east of the Ventura County community of Oak Park and west of the Cheeseboro Canyon Park.
In a statement released Monday, Stanley Albright, the Park Service's regional director, said the service supports the Jordan Ranch land swap, as well a second development plan by Home Savings of America.
In a proposal unrelated to the land swap, Home Savings has offered to donate 3,500 acres of its 5,500-acre Ahmanson Ranch to the National Park Service for expansion of the eastern edge of Cheeseboro Canyon Park. The Ahmanson Ranch is east of Cheeseboro Canyon, between Bell Canyon and Hidden Hills.
Home Savings has proposed a $2-billion development to include 3,000 homes, retail stores, a 3-million-square-foot industrial park and a 200-room hotel on the rest of Ahmanson Ranch.
Both development proposals will require General Plan and zoning changes by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, which is to begin public hearings on them today.
The open-space zoning of the two properties now allows fewer than 100 homes to be built, county planners said.
The National Park Service's support of the land swap will figure prominently in the board's decision, county officials said.
The Park Service's final approval of the land swap still requires an appraisal of the properties and the completion of environmental studies, Albright said. But for now, "the superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has been instructed to inform the Ventura County Board of Supervisors that we support the county proceeding to a detailed evaluation of these proposals," Albright said.
Potomac Investment Associates last week offered to sell an additional 306 acres of the Jordan Ranch to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for $2 million. Developers hoped that the proposal would reduce opposition to the land swap and increase chances of obtaining the Park Service's support.
The Park Service has decided to support the Potomac and Ahmanson Ranch development proposals because they would triple the acreage of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area north of the Ventura Freeway, local park superintendent Daniel R. Kuehn said. Cheeseboro Canyon Park would be expanded from 2,100 acres to 4,605 acres if the developments are approved by the county supervisors, he said.
Kuehn, who has supported the land swap since May, was told last week that his position was "premature and strictly personal," by a spokesman for William Penn Mott Jr., director of the Park Service.
"The Washington office seems to be supporting my position now," Kuehn said Monday.
Critics of the Jordan Ranch development proposal say that if the board turns down the Potomac project, the entire property could be purchased for parkland.
John Perry, spokesman for a group called the Palo Comado Coalition, said the market price of Jordan Ranch property could be out of reach for parkland purchases if the Potomac project is approved. "Without the higher zoning and without road access, the value of the Jordan Ranch would be fairly low," Perry said.
Opponents of the two projects say the developments would bring too much traffic and congestion to the largely rural area. Ventura County planners have recommended that the board turn down the projects because they violate a number of county policies prohibiting large-scale development in the area.